From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Forget all that love-at-first-sight, rose-scented Bachelor intoxication—and especially the rose-colored glasses. As the newest Bachelorette—and a once-burned Bachelor suitor, following her broken engagement to Andrew Firestone—Jen Schefft was determined to give reality romance a reality check. "I had a relationship that began on this television show prior to this, and now I've gained some insight into the experience," she says. "I know when you get into the real world, things can change. I just wanted to make sure I could convey that to the men."

Now that filming has concluded on the third go-round of ABC's The Bachelorette, which debuts Jan. 10, Schefft is pleased she stayed the course. "I am very happy with the outcome," the 28-year-old events planner says of her new romance. With the relationship still under wraps, the couple met up prior to Christmas, which Schefft spent with family in Cleveland. The rendezvous came just a year after her breakup with millionaire vintner and tire heir Firestone, 29, from whom she accepted a marriage proposal—and a 2.8-carat Harry Winston engagement ring (she still has it)—on the third installment of The Bachelor. Clearly, the split didn't sour Schefft on the idea of once again opening her heart in front of millions of viewers. Says Schefft: "I would never pass up the opportunity [to find love] just because people on the street might know about my life."

Still, she did have reservations, as did her family. "We all had our concerns, but Jen is a romantic, and life can be about taking chances," says her mom, Diane, 56. Schefft also received encouragement from a pro: Bachelorette-turned-newlywed Trista Sutter, 32. "I gave her a call and said good luck," says Sutter. "She has a great head on her shoulders. She knows what to do."

In a change from the show's Southern California locales, Schefft's search took place in Manhattan, where she moved into a three-bedroom loft. And in another departure, Schefft had a hand in casting. "I got to be there to tell [producers], 'That guy there—he's totally my type,' or 'No!'" she says.

This time, says Schefft, she played a more cautious Juliet, asking more probing questions about, among other things, her would-be Romeos' future plans, work habits and even table manners. The toughest part? "You go on one date, and then all of a sudden you can't go home and really think on it," she says. "I mean, I'm a girl and I like to analyze everything! So it was hard for me to switch gears [for another date]."

One unlikely source of guidance: her split from Firestone, which she attributes partly to conflicting desires to travel (his) and nest (hers). Now on friendly terms—"he is nothing but supportive," says Schefft—the couple stay in touch, and Firestone says he plans to "keep tabs" on Schefft's Bachelorette run. "Jen is very traditional," says show host and Schefft pal Chris Harrison. "Seeing what she went through with Andrew, which in the beginning was wonderful, she knows what she doesn't want out of life and out of a husband."

While Schefft won't reveal too much, she will say what she hopes the last man standing will offer. "I have my moments when I freak out, and I need a man to understand that I haven't turned into some crazy woman. That and I'm a girl and I have a lot of make-up!" she says. But mostly, "I just want somebody who will make me feel good about myself." Two reality shows later, did she finally find that? "I'm feeling good, definitely," she notes. "I am much more relaxed now."

Greg Adkins. Cynthia Wang in Los Angeles and Bryan Alexander in London

  • Contributors:
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Bryan Alexander.